It’s Spring Break time again! The weather is turning for the better. It’s been a long pandemic. School may have been a grind, not the experience you expected or wanted.
If you are reading this, you probably already got in some sort of trouble or have a loved one who has done so. Over my 25+ years of practice, virtually everyone who embarks on a search for a criminal defense lawyer online already got in trouble. Almost no one plans on getting in trouble, even if they know it could happen. If I had a magic wand, I would have used it to make sure you read this before the problem happened.
The Elephant in the Room
I’ve previously addressed the most common criminal legal issues I encounter from Spring Break in a couple of other blogs I encourage you to review, in addition to this one. For this blog, I’ll address the elephant in the room.
This year is different from other Spring Breaks. Spring Break 2020 was an awkward time. We faced something not seen in the United States for over 100 years, a pandemic. Local media was slow to change its “as usual” reporting, simply promoting Spring Break. Instead of as usual, the normal explosion of visitors was instead a trickle in most places. Many universities have even canceled Spring Break for 2021, as well.
We’ve since grown accustomed to limitations placed on our choices to travel and engage in what we think of as normal activities. Many people are quite fatigued and worse. I won’t be surprised to see the usual crowds gather, despite the risks.
You may have decided you’ll just take your chances and throw caution to the wind. Before I get into any of the legal situations typically encountered, I want to let you know what’s been happening here before your visit.
We All Expect More Spring Breakers
As I write this, various law enforcement agencies are coordinating efforts to keep Spring Breakers from spinning out of control on Nueces County area beaches. They clearly expect a bigger crowd in 2021 than in 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic choked off most visitors from the area.
Based on crowds I’ve seen gather for various college sporting events or celebrations thereafter during the pandemic, I suspect Spring Break 2021 will bring many college students from all over the country. When the governor of Texas recently announced lifting the so-called “mask mandate” on March 2, he effectively invited Spring Breakers.
You May Need to Take a Test
If you did go, and by going you put yourself in a position to risk arrest, you might want to consider one more possibility: getting tested for COVID-19. Good reason exists for this advice.
If you were arrested, let’s say in Port A, otherwise known as Port Aransas, Texas, you were in for an experience you may not have expected. Once arrested, you likely were stuck in a small jail cell with numerous other people for many hours before a magistrate arrived. You probably didn’t have a choice about wearing a mask, nor did your cellmates; it was up to the jailers.
If you were fortunate and only got charged with a Class C misdemeanor, incarceration should have ended there after posting bail. If you had something more serious than a “fine only” charge, you were in for a much longer wait with your new cell mates, in all likelihood. People probably came and went while you waited.
Eventually, the police department decided they had enough people to justify the roughly hour-long trip to the county jail in downtown Corpus Christi. That trip was almost certainly in a van or other vehicle which put you in even closer quarters with other people with similar charges. Again, you had no control over what precautions were taken for your health.
It’s Even Worse In the County Jail
When you arrived at the Nueces County Jail, you may have learned the hard way for the first time the jail is notorious for being slow to process people in and out, sometimes taking more than a day, even when bail is posted immediately. It’s usually slow in the best of times, but COVID-19 protocols and a spike in the number of arrests due to Spring Break, likely slowed your release even more.
What they almost certainly did not tell you is they’ve had extensive COVID-19 infections. One of their facilities once virtually guaranteed infection for every person in jail. It was so bad, it made news in New York.
Texas is Not Safe For Spring Break
We no longer have a mask mandate in Texas. We still have plenty of COVID-19 to go around for residents and visitors alike. At this writing, more than 90% of our population still has yet to be inoculated. Our COVID-19 hospitalizations rates have dropped, but are leveling off or rising at the time of this writing. Even a tiny bit of good news seems to have caused people to think the pandemic is finished, but that’s clearly premature.
Fewer people will likely wear masks without a mandate, and Spring Break will inject many thousands of people from all over the country to our local beaches, where they will intimately mingle maskless. Our governor’s 100% “re-opening” on March 10 has been panned by people all over the political spectrum.
Businesses starved for business welcome the prospect of a massive influx of Spring Breakers. One has to wonder how that desperate need will affect safety precautions taken by businesses. Regardless of your opinion on this matter, the fact remains COVID-19 continues to loom over us, and we have much work to do to defeat it.
The upshot of this is you (or your loved one who was arrested) should be tested for COVID-19 immediately, as should everyone you’ve come into contact with since your arrest. Even if you don’t feel anything, even if you have no symptoms at all, you could have COVID-19, and you could have transmitted it, perhaps even to people you know and love. They, too, should be made aware of this situation and get tested immediately.
Back to Our Usual Programming
Now that you’ve decided to get a COVID-19 test (I hope), let’s discuss the most common reasons Spring Breakers will look for a criminal defense lawyer. The most common charges revolve around alcohol and drugs.
Alcohol charges predominate during Spring Break. Minors drinking and possessing alcohol frequently result in citations. Minors driving after drinking alcohol also face direct suspension of driver licenses. Paying those citations results in automatic convictions. Convictions have long-standing ramifications, both legal and societal. College students seeking employment after graduation don’t want to have to explain any negative mark or arrest. We can usually help with that.
More serious alcohol charges include drunk driving, i.e. DWI, Driving While Intoxicated. These charges range from misdemeanors to felonies, depending upon circumstances. Convictions for any of these types of charges lead to lifetime criminal records which can be used against the person convicted in criminal matters and civil matters.
Drug and drug-related charges can be as relatively minor as a Possession of Drug Paraphernalia, but can be as serious as felony Possession of Controlled Substance. One of our most commonly charged crimes is Possession of Marijuana, known locally as “POM”.
In Texas, our government has refused to legalize marijuana, and marijuana concentrates are categorically felony crimes. I believe marijuana and various products created from it should be legalized like it is in many states, but visitors and residents alike are considered criminals for possessing and using marijuana for now.
Traffic Charges and More
Traffic charges are common, as well. Beach driving is not considered “road” driving by many people, but it is. There is a speed limit of 15 m.p.h. on Texas beaches, for example. Other traffic laws are not simply suspended because you may have been driving on sand, rather than pavement.
By no means is this an exhaustive list of legal problems you may have encountered during Spring Break. Far more serious things occur, as well. Regardless of the criminal problem, you may contact this office with your issue. At the very least, I hope everyone remains safe and healthy both during and after Spring Break because that’s more important than any of the legal consequences.